Not over until it’s over: Nepal’s forgetfulness and negligence regarding Covid-19

The wave of Covid-19 is back and it is back with serious revenge this time. It is likely to puncture our false confidence built by a massive drive of antidotes vaccination across the world. The rate of being cured made some of us think of the disease as nothing more than regular flu, some kind of media sensationalism and corporate conspiracy.

We really forgot the way bodies were dumped in the streets, family members were abandoned, and ventilators were not to be found this time around last year. We started herding in parties and in public places as if our proximity would ensure immunity and consequent indemnity. It was also assumed that zestful celebrations would dethrone the crown-shaped virus.

Probably soon in a few days, we will have enough folklore —stories, memes, jokes and urban legends over the internet—to laugh away the disease with its unbearable lightness of being, just like stories of World War I superseded the Spanish Flu. People hardly talk about the 1918 pandemic that killed 50 million people worldwide against the 8.5 million people who died in the great war.

There are so many war stories to tell us about human courage, resilience, betrayal, love and hate. The sickness during the war, in contrast, appears to be a footnote in the grand scheme of history and a reference point for our ongoing havoc.

We have already lost more than a year to this invisible enemy. Soon enough, we would like to forget these odd and blue experiences like a cricketing tour to Kiwiland where we saw black caps all over us.

Surely, there are benefits in forgetting too. Neuroscientists believe that forgetting is an essential memory management system that sets aside unused memories to store new memories. This is called the active model of forgetting; the passive model is suggestive of the biological decay of neurons that happen naturally.

But, the way we keep forgetting what we are preaching during this pandemic is tantamount to passive aggression. The routine circulars that inundate the media show that there is no coordination among different branches of administration. The tally of deaths is on the rise, the infection rate is on the rise. The curve is showing no sign of flatness as it swings back to climb new heights. The human miseries behind the pitiless data, however, remain unforgettable.

The baffling binaries

The forgetfulness-remembrance binary is best evident in our administrative paradoxes. How can one department of government say that there will be no class in the colleges and schools and  group over 25 people are  not allowed to have any function in the cities that are under the red zone while there is another department that is taking medical and nursing entrance tests in a few weeks in Kathmandu?

How can one ministry say there will be no public gathering while there is another one arranging national events and rallies ? What kind of message does this forgetfulness suggest: a damage in the ageing brain or a memory management to keep the system running? Ironically, it seems forgetfulness is creeping into the system. What lessons have we learnt in the last one year? What algorithm did we use to predict the rate of infection?

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli addresses his cadres, in Pokhara, on Monday, March 1, 2021.

During the pandemic, many educational institutions have learned to adapt to the online system. Schools, colleges and universities are trying to deliver lessons. However, there is no mechanism or initiative in place to monitor the process from the government level.

The rest of the world has successfully designed and devised various online protocols for monitoring and assessments. It is very surprising in Nepal that we can adapt to the virtual teaching and learning model, but we cannot do the same with assessment.

The authorities remembered to increase the bus fare, forgetting that the coronavirus safety protocol was never lifted in the first place. We forgot to come up with safety gadgets or protective gear for ride-sharing services during this entire year.

And, suddenly we remembered that strangers should not ride in such close proximity. Then, the bike riders and passengers blocked the city roads to remind us that it was inhumane to stop services or clamp extra charges without any forewarning and contingency plan.

We forgot to address the social inequalities that allowed the disease to spread fast. The privileged group that cursed the protestors occupying the streets demanding basic political rights or livelihoods forgot the others who endangered their lives to be exposed to the wrath of the disease while being on the streets. There are structural discriminations that lie deep within the system that needed to be addressed to make our celebrations meaningful. 

We also need to remember the ones who chalked the disease up to be media sensationalism, downplaying its intensity. The callousness, forgetfulness and negligence are hurting us all. The sooner we can forget this pandemic, the better. But, let us not forget the ones who we have lost during this battle. And let us not forget: it is not over until it is over.

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Thapa is an international education consultant, working in Kathmandu.

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